Wednesday, 11 January 2012

The Quarry by Damon Galgut

After reading In A Strange Room, I’ve been interested in reading more of Damon Galgut’s books. I came across The Quarry in a used bookshop, and I didn’t have to ponder long if I should get it or not…

The Quarry is a strange piece of fiction. Similar to In A Strange Room, it opens with an unidentified “he” walking by himself on the road. We do not know where he’s coming from or where he’s going, but he seems to have been walking for a long time, and he keeps away from people and cars, so we can assume that he is hiding from something or someone.

Eventually “he” is picked up by a minister in a car who offers to buy him lunch. “He” eats, cleans up and gets a lift with the minister who is on his way to start a new job in a town up north. But the minister has some rather unsavoury requests from his hitchhiker, and “he” ends up burying the minister in a quarry, while he himself goes on to the town pretending to be the minister. On the way, “he” picks up a hitchhiker who shows him the way to the church. Exhausted, “he” doesn’t take his new housekeepers advice to bring his “belongings” inside before going to bed, and the next morning finds the car ransacked. It is clear that it must be the friendly hitchhiker who was behind the robbery, and the local police quickly get on their tracks. Unfortunately for the new “minister”, his robbers find a link to the quarry in the car, along with a picture of the real minister. In the mean time, the new “minister” gets a larger and larger congregation with every passing Sunday. Will the secrets of the quarry be revealed?

The twists and turns of this novel make it kind of fun in the midst of all the seriousness. We get to see a number of people’s perspectives, including the housekeeper, the head of police and the two robbers, all of which have their own lives to worry about. And for such a quiet novel, there is a lot of action and a plot that keeps thickening. I can’t decide if I should root for “he”, the two robbers or the police, and I guess that is also Galgut’s idea.

The dialogue in the novel is quite limited, and even though we get some insight into the character’s minds, a lot of things are left between the lines and for the readers to interpret. We get some fact but not all the answers.

The Quarry was published in 1995, just after the fall of apartheid. Considering the last chapter of the book, I get the impression that the quarry is in fact a symbol or metaphor for something. Here, the quarry is described during the day, when “everything in the quarry is lit from above by the sun” (p. 192), i.e. from above one can see everything. As day passes into night, however, the things inside the quarry becomes obliterated, “you can’t see down into the quarry” (p. 192-193). Galgut concludes with: “It was dug a long time ago and it goes deep down into the ground. There might be water in the quarry, or movement, or nothing. There might be no bottom to it.” (p. 193). The final line gives me a chill. It could be read as a view of apartheid, or on the South African society which allowed apartheid to come into being in the first place, it was dug a long time ago and goes deep into the ground. It could even be South Africa. Or it could be nothing.

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